Friday, May 17, 2019

"Wokeness" And The Great Labeling

     Imagine this, if you will: A human society is getting along tolerably well. It’s not a utopia, mind you. There are still persons who struggle to make ends meet. There are still persons who are excluded from various things for bad reasons. There are still persons who suffer wounds to their dignity from the speech or conduct of others. But it’s getting along, owing to the universal recognition of individuals’ rights, and the willingness of the many to help the less fortunate few when the need arises.

     But soft! What’s this? There is a human characteristic, found in everyone who’s ever lived, that’s suddenly become a target for a gaggle of would-be tyrants. (C. S. Lewis called them “Conditioners.”) These persons have decided to label this characteristic, to denounce it roundly and continuously, and to mount a public campaign against it that involves shaming everyone who demonstrates it – or whom they can claim, however implausibly, to have demonstrated it!

     Excuse me! Did I imply that this labeling / public crusade involves only one universal human characteristic? My mistake; it embraces a great many of them, all of which are ineradicable.

     The campaigners against these things don’t merely afflict small pockets of society. They often seem to own the streets. They are making it impossible to have any sort of public discourse. They attack innocent persons on the basis of…well, you name it, but especially for their choices of words.

     These are “The Woke.” They are the scourge of America. Moreover, they’re fully aware of their own odiousness. They flaunt it like a badge of merit.

     Just as a plague of thieves would make property impossible, The Woke are making social intercourse impossible. And they’re proud of it.

     Yet their principal weapons, which ordinary Americans would never have dreamed could be made into a lethal bludgeon, are verbal: the labels they apply to ordinary human characteristics and inclinations. And to this point, almost no one has adopted the proper countermeasure against them.

     Bo Winegard’s essay on The Woke deserves to be cited explicitly at several points. First, Professor Winegard addresses why they do it:

     Because it allows a person priority access to crucial and coveted resources such as money and mates, the desire for status is probably a fundamental human motivation. And because that desire is primitive and powerful, many social practices and activities function at least partially to delineate status relationships. These can be analyzed as status systems and operate in predictable ways because, whatever its diverse manifestations, status has some invariant features. Most importantly, it is inexpansible. That is to say, its supply does not grow. Unlike the economic pie, the status pie remains roughly the same across time. Therefore, players in the status game inevitably inhabit a zero-sum world. If one person’s status goes up, then another’s must go down, which explains why people are exquisitely sensitive not only to gains in their own status, but also to gains in other people’s status. Another’s triumph inevitably rearranges the distribution of a finite and precious resource.

     Among other things, Wokeness appears to operate as just such a status system. This doesn’t mean that its only function is to adjudicate status competitions; but it does mean that one of its crucial functions is to do so. And it does this primarily by offering a signaling vocabulary which can distinguish educated elites from hoi polloi. The elites who thus benefit offer status to those who defend and legitimize the Woke narrative (the preachers); and they strip status from those who dissent.

     Note how closely this analysis of status in Wokeness compares to the Marxist conception of the economic pie. That which is greatly desired but fixed in supply tends to elicit destructive behavior. The Woke certainly produce enough of that.

     To sustain the eternal competition for status in Wokeness, the array of verbal cudgels must be constantly expanded and ramified, even if it means a descent into gibberish:

     Wokeness provides this kind of sophisticated argot for signalers. Those who preach its gospel often use bizarre concepts imported from postmodern theorists, infamous for their impenetrable prose. Terms such as “hegemonic,” “intersectional,” “phallocentric,” and “queerphobe” are regularly deployed, intimidating the uninitiated and impressing those who wish, in the future, to signal their erudition to fawning fans. Even Woke language for popular consumption is complicated by a quickly changing list of taboo epithets. Is it wrong to say homosexual relationship? Is it all right to say African-American? Will I be berated if I say Mexican-American? These changing prohibitions function well to distinguish elites from hoi polloi because they require devotion, erudition, and the right social acquaintances to understand.

     But even gibberish will serve the purposes of The Woke if the gibberish can be made to sound elevated – and threatening. It advances the progress of self-censorship, by which only the certifiably Woke are allowed to speak in an unencumbered fashion.

     However, the inevitable consequence of an inexpansible status system is the emergence of a hierarchy: Inner and Outer Parties, with a small circle of Anointed at the summit of the Inner Party and perhaps a Big Brother figure at the absolute apex. Not all who aspire to membership in the more rarefied circles will be permitted to enter them. This will cause resentment in the excluded, and a measure of guilt in some of the accepted:

     Status disparities cause resentment. And they often also cause guilt. Those on the bottom of the hierarchy become bitter, disdaining those on the top. And this resentment is a constant source of rancor and instability. Those on the top, of course, are generally happier; however, they often experience discord as well, especially perhaps if they are liberal: Why do I deserve this blessed life? Am I really better than those below me? Both problems—the bitterness of those on the bottom and the guilt of those on the top—can be ameliorated by a powerful legitimizing narrative, a narrative that explains why those on the top deserve their status while those on the bottom deserve their rather less charmed lives and, in fact, should be pleased simply to defer to their superiors. Those who provide such a narrative offer a valuable service; therefore, they are recompensed with approval and applause.

     Are these mechanisms eternally stable? Of course not; nothing is. But they might last long enough to destabilize the most successful human society in the history of Man.

     Professor Winegard’s analysis concludes with an opinion about the sincerity of The Woke – in my opinion, an excessively generous assessment:

     Before concluding, it is important to re-emphasize that many of the people in the Woke status system sincerely believe in social justice. And many of their moral concerns are entirely legitimate….The danger is that the status desires of these preachers will eclipse their moral concerns. (Some, of course, would claim that this has already happened.)

     The suggestion that The Woke are sincere about the phantasm of “social justice” runs counter to the available evidence. If there are any in that community who genuinely do care about the persons they supposedly champion – and who are they, specifically? — what are they actually doing about it, other than preening about their superiority to the rest of us? What real-world results, measurable enough to register on some scale of acknowledged significance, can they show us?

     The answer is unpleasant: They can show us nothing of the kind. The devolution of Wokeness from a putatively sincere concern with racial and ethnic exclusion, poverty, or other varieties of imagined “oppression,” into a competition for status has made objective gains of the sort others would admire, or at least respect as indications of sincerity, impossible. Today’s Woke are concerned solely with the status their methods can attain for them.

     It is a mistake to attribute to The Woke any degree of sincerity or integrity, especially as the “causes” they champion are mere fantasies, without exception.

     Of course, the principal concern of anyone who finds The Woke a nuisance, a blight upon civil society, an impediment to constructive discourse and an occasional temptation to murder, must be whether We the Normal and Sensible can do anything about them. The news here is mixed.

     I opened this diatribe with the assertion that at the heart of the matter stand certain universal human characteristics, and that The Woke’s crusades are essentially a practice of applying pejorative labels to these things, denouncing them, and castigating anyone who might exhibit a trace of them:

  • Racism.
  • Sexism.
  • A degree of xenophobia.
  • A belief in biological reality.
  • A preference for those of similar backgrounds and creeds.
  • The belief in personal responsibility; i.e., that “fate” doesn’t control one’s destiny.

     The implication is that these characteristics can be expelled from our species – that a new and better human being can be produced if we just work at it. It’s the purest nonsense. Yet The Woke demonize these things relentlessly, ironically without admitting to their own possession and exhibition of them.

     It’s not quite New Socialist Man stuff, as The Woke lack the power to enforce their wills by law. But verbal beatdowns sufficiently prolonged can affect a man, though the effect is more likely to be negative than positive.

     With the exception of the most elevated of their kind – those who know exactly what they’re about and make no pretense of sincerity even to one another – The Woke suffer a defect in the rational faculty: a mental disease. They have made their pursuit of a phantasm – the quest for moral superiority based on a mere difference of opinion – the core of their existence. And no known therapy is effective against it.

     They cannot be cured. They can only be detoxified. And as their weapons are verbal, so also are the appropriate countermeasures.

     Dismiss the labels. (“So what?”)
     Ignore the castigations. (“Yeah, sure.”)
     Laugh at the humorless scolds who seek to flail you with them.
     Deny them your respect.
     Smirk, flip a hand, and walk on.

     Short of confinement in an institution whose suites have padded walls, it’s all one can do for anyone afflicted with the disease of Wokeness.

     No, there is no cure. But there is hope.

1 comment:

Shell said...

'Dismiss the labels. (“So what?”)
Ignore the castigations. (“Yeah, sure.”)
Laugh at the humorless scolds who seek to flail you
with them.
Deny them your respect.
Smirk, flip a hand, and walk on.'

It's the only way to deal with them. One of the few things my father ever said to me that was worth a damn was "Indifference is the greatest insult." I've found that a dollop of wry, at times disgusted, amusement aids in the insulting.